by Esther Davis
The snowfall muffled the distant highway, and frosted autumn leaves still clung to their branches. Cody perched on the bench’s edge. His pug flopped into the carpet of snow at his feet. He watched Rachel’s fingers molding the handful of snow—clumsy and awkward. So simple, so ordinary. Magicless.
It was beautiful.
“How can you like me so much?” he blurted.
Rachel’s fingers stopped. She tilted her head towards him, brown curls framing her face. “For your information, I’m not ‘in like’ with you. Try ‘in love’.”
Love? Cody’s heart skipped a beat. His mouth twitched in a half smile.
“You didn’t answer my question.” Thankfully he managed not to stutter. She’d never said love before.
Rachel returned to sculpting, shaving away snow around the neck, using the tips of her fingers to carve details into the face. “You’re selfless.”
“Ha. Not according to your dad.”
Rachel glanced up again. “You ease dropped on me?”
“I didn’t mean to.” Sometimes magic had a mind of its own.
“Well, my father doesn’t know you. I saw what you did for that boy.”
“It’s what anyone would’ve done. You see a homeless kid on a cold day, you give him your coat.”
“Then why had no one else done it?”
Cody looked to his snow covered pants. His pug rolled onto its back and grunted.
“Done.” Rachel placed the lump of snow in his hands. It vaguely resembled a demented rhino. “It’s Baxtor.” She nudged the pug with her foot and laughed.
“I love it.”
Rachel laughed again. “Maybe Baxtor will actually play fetch if we use his mini-self.” She reached for the sculpture. Cody jerked away.
“No! I … I want to keep it.”
“Suit yourself. It’ll melt soon anyway.”
No, he’d make sure it didn’t.
The brief snow melted weeks before, but Rachel’s snow sculpture remained. With a concoction of soren powder, elf’s thyme, and queen’s dust he’d frozen it in time, preserving every detail. He’d spent hours on the spell, selecting only the best herbs, weaving one incantation on top of another, double checking and triple checking every detail. Cody had never created a more powerful spell. He refused to lose his token of Rachel’s love. Even now it still burned cold in his jacket pocket—next to his heart.
Rachel’s dad opened the door. Cody tried his best smile. Mr. Brewer slammed the door in his face.
“Father! Was that Cody?” Rachel shouted from inside.
“No,” Mr. Brewer grumbled, “just some bratty rich kid.”
The door flung open. Rachel stepped out. “I’m so sorry, my father—”
Cody held up his hand. “It’s fine. Really.”
Cody led the way through the autumn leaves. He held the Cadillac door open for Rachel.
“Where are we going? You’re not normally so secretive about our dates.”
They talked while Cody drove—or rather, Rachel talked while Cody nodded and uh-huh‘ed and drummed the steering wheel nervously. If Rachel noticed, she didn’t mention it.
“Then I found his shoe box and— Is … Is that … your mine? Like, where you get, you know …”
“The gold I wouldn’t share with my own mother? Yeah.” Cody squeezed the steering wheel. “Sorry. Didn’t mean to bring your dad up again.”
The road snaked up the mountain a few hundred feet before stopping next to the gap in the mountainside. Orange warning signs and a collapsing guard rail lined the hole.
“Come on, I want to show you something.”
They walked to the gate and took the steel stairs down to the quarry floor. Walls of stone towered around them. The skeleton of an elevator clung to a stone shaft. They entered and descended.
They exited into a dark tunnel. Cody snapped his fingers, and a source-less light appeared around them. Rachel didn’t even notice.
Hand in hers, Cody led them through the twisting tunnels. “The mine’s been in my family for centuries,” he said. “But there’s more here than gold.”
“What do you mean?”
A dead end came around the corner. Cody dropped Rachel’s hand. He pulled a thick emerald key from his pocket. An outline of a door blazed to life on the rock wall. Rachel gasped.
The emerald key touched the glowing doorknob. The door swung inward, revealing a field of swaying grass.
Speechless, Rachel followed him through the doorway. From the other side, the doorway sliced into an oak’s trunk. Cody closed it. The glowing stopped, and the door blended perfectly into the bark. He double checked the lock. He didn’t want any unwelcome guests on Earth.
“It’s called Talhaigh,” he said. “I grew up here.”
Cody looked to Rachel, expecting fear on her face. Instead he found joy. “It’s beautiful.”
A smile tugged at the corner of his mouth. “My parents moved here right after I was born.”
“They didn’t die in a mine accident, did they?”
He shook his head. “A witch attacked our village.”
Rachel squeezed his hand. “Show me Talhaigh. I want see the magic.”
Cody led her through the field, pointing out the miniature dragons that skittered underfoot like field mice. He told her how the sun changed color with the seasons, how stardust sometimes fell like snow, and how at night—if you listened closely—you could hear the crickets and grass sing a duet.
He showed her how he made gold from the curlin leaves and king’s powder. He entertained her by making the stones dance around. He picked a dandelion and, with king’s powder, changed it pink before tucking it behind her ear.
“Teach me,” Rachel said.
Cody started. “You can’t just learn magic like that. You have to study for years and—”
“Just a little. Tell me something about it.”
“Well, um …” Cody kicked at the dirt as they strolled through the field. “It’s kind of like science on Earth. You can’t get something for nothing. Everything has to stay balanced. When I move the rocks, I take energy from the sun. The gold doesn’t come from nowhere; the leaves turn into it. It can lead to abstract connections, too. Like when you brew a love potion, you give love to the drinker by giving something else hate.”
“So that’s why Baxtor hates fetch. You took it away so I’d fall in love with you.”
Cody’s heart skipped a beat. “No.” He grabbed Rachel’s shoulders and looked her squarely in the eye. “I swear, I’ve never used magic on you. And I never will.” He couldn’t let it harm her like it had his parents.
“No jokes about magic? Got it.”
They reached the farmer’s stable. The owner vacationed often and wouldn’t be home for a few more days. A quick flick of Cody’s fingers opened the lock. “Choose any horse you want,” Cody said. “Except the unicorn. He tried to gore me last time.”
“Fine.” Rachel’s eyes left the unicorn and drifted over the remaining half dozen horses. “Are we supposed to be here?”
“Of course.” Cody sprinkled orc powder around the lock to erase his magic-print.
Rachel approached a black steed with a star on his forehead. “Let’s take him.”
Cody smelled the stench long before he saw the gnarled willows. The herbs that grew in the Unhallowed Forest made it rancid and rotten. Their magic’s vile aura radiated out like a silent screech.
As the Unhallowed Forest neared, the steed became skittish. Rachel’s grip on Cody tightened. “He’ll never ride into the forest for me,” Cody said. “But, I’ll fix that.”
“What d’you mean?”
“I’ve been working on a new kind of spell, one that can control animals. I want to gather the herbs today.”
“So you are taking me to wor—”
The horse bucked.
Cody managed to keep his grip, but Rachel flew into the air. He shouted an incantation and Rachel stopped in mid-flight. She floated softly to the ground, laughing between gasps. “I thought you said you wouldn’t use magic on me.”
Cody’s eyes widen. “I didn’t realize—it was an emergency. I—”
She slugged his shoulder. “I’m teasing you. It’s not like I wanted to die today.”
The corner of his mouth twitched, but he didn’t smile.
Cody tied the steed to a lone pine a couple hundred feet away from the forest. They entered the trees—the rich grass becoming a swampy mess. Dark oily branches tangled above them. More light would’ve filtered through the leaves if the layers of magic didn’t block it. The pseudo-shadows that fed on the forest’s aura only made it darker. Their flat murky figures slid through the willows, only their movement distinguishing them from the really thing.
Rachel shivered. “Isn’t magic supposed to be happier? You know, fairies and unicorns and that stuff?”
“That type’s weaker.” Cody pulled his map from his bag.
“’That type’? Then what’s this? Black magic?”
“There’s no such thing as ‘black magic’ or ‘evil magic’. There’s just magic.” He snapped a twig from a scarred trunk and tapped it twice on his blank map. Two drops of oil fell onto the paper. He whispered to them, and they zoomed apart. The first drop formed into two figures, him and Rachel. The second became a crumbling hut with a wild garden.
Cody handed Rachel a soren petal. “Put it in your pocket. It’ll keep away the demons.”
Her eyes widened. But before she could ask what else she should worry about, Cody tromped away through the forest with his eyes glued to the map.
Cody held out his hand, and Rachel nearly tripped trying to stop. She grabbed his shoulder to balance herself. “What–?”
Cody held a finger to her lips. “The Witch’s Garden,” he whispered, barely more than a breath. “Let me make sure we’re alone.” His finger went to his belt, where he uncapped the hogsbreath. Scarlet fumes rose from the bottle. He wafted them around his hand, writing calligraphy in the smoke “Beala,” he whispered. The fumes changed violet then green before vanishing.
Cody led the way forward. Vines tangled around their feet and swampy soil climbed their legs as they left the forest and entered the clearing. An overgrown garden sat before a collapsing brick home. A rotting fence surrounded the garden—blue squash, wispy black leaves, yellow acorn-shaped fruit. Cody scanned the vegetation until he found the foxpad. The flat purple flower sat on the far corner of garden. “That’s the main herb I need. If there’s time, we’ll gather some other plants, too.”
Rachel trailed her hand along the fence as she followed Cody around. “I don’t like the feel of this place,” she whispered, her normal confidence gone.
“The herbs’ auras are pretty strong.” Cody crouched next to the foxpad and slung off his pack. He took out a wooden box with a flowing gold lace painted over it. The golden design would hold in the foxpad’s magic and keep it fresh. He could only fit two for now. He’d have to come back for more later. “Rachel, I’m going to need your help for this part.”
Rachel knelt next to him. “’Kay?”
Cody handed her a burlap sack. “Pour the goblindust over the flower when I cut the stem. It will neutralize the poisonous fumes.”
Cody set the shears at the top of the stem. “Three, two, one!”
The shears snipped. Purple spores shot out of the flower. Rachel flipped over the bag and dust dropped out. “Not all of it!” Cody shouted.
“Sorry,” Rachel squeaked. “Maybe we should just leave.”
“No, no, you’re fine.” He placed the wilted flower in the box and gathered up the remaining mounds of dust as best he could. He handed the half-empty bag back to Rachel. “Let’s try one more.” He placed the shears by another foxpad. “Ready?”
“Three, two, now!”
Rachel tipped the bag to smother the spores, but it flew out of her hand – caught in a sudden gust of wind. Purple spores filled the air. Cody shouted and threw the spewing flower across the garden. He knocked Rachel to the ground and pulled up his shirt to cover his nose.
“Thieves? Little human thieves in my garden?”
Coughing and sputtering, Cody pulled himself to his knees. A hunched old woman with unkempt clumps of hair clinging to her head stood a few yards away. The witch.
“Thieves must be punished,” she cackled. “Nasty human thieves must pay.”
“We’re sorry.” Cody fumbled with his belt for the right powder, anything to defend Rachel or even distract the witch. “We didn’t know anyone lived here still.”
The witch licked her cracked lips and stepped towards them. Her taloned feet floated over the swampy ground. “Filthy lies, that is. Filthy, filthy lies from nasty human.”
Rachel whimpered behind him. “Cody …”
His fingers found a pouch. He felt the pattern stitched onto it to identify the powder—baskel skin. That would work. Cody jerked the pouch from his belt, unsynched it with his thumb and forefinger, and flung the contents. The powder burst into flames. The witch surrounded herself with a shield.
Cody grasped Rachel’s arm while jumping to his feet. “Run!”
Their feet sloshed across the muddy clearing and into the forest. Behind them, the fire’s roars turned to hisses and howl. The witch shrieked out orders in an unintelligible language. Cody cursed under his breath.
“What?” Rachel managed through gasps.
“The pseudo-shadows. They’ve possessed the fire.”
“Just keep running.”
Cody dragged her farther through the trees. He managed to jump most of the protruding roots, but Rachel kept tripping. “Hurry!” he said.
The air whistled. Cody pulled Rachel to the ground. Fire rushed past them. A willow burst into flames. “Get them!” the witch shrieked.
Cody pulled Rachel back to her feet. Mud smeared her face and blood caked her elbow. “This way.”
Fire filled the forest. Trees burned like torches. Flames shaped like wolves and jaguars leapt from branch to branch. One of the flame creatures roared at them, nearly singeing them with a burst of embers.
Cody ducked under branches and weaved through the burning trunks, all the time pulling Rachel behind him. “Faster!” he shouted.
Rachel’s arm slipped from his grasp.
Cody stumbled to a halt, nearly falling into a burning tree. He turned. A ghostly blue rope wrapped around Rachel’s ankle, dragging her backwards. The witch rode atop a flaming eagle, blue rope in hand. “Nasty humans must pay.”
Cody grasped for his powders, searched his mind for a spell. But his fingers were too clumsy, his mind too frantic.
The rope jerked and flung Rachel into the air. The witch waved her arms and the blue rope wound itself around the flying Rachel. She tried to scream, but it covered her mouth. Then she froze, ten feet above the ground, dangling upside down in the blue coils.
“No! Please, I’ll give you anything!” Cody shouted to the witch. “Take me instead!”
The witch cackled. “Don’t worry pretty boy, you’ll be next.” She held out her gnarled hand and squeezed it into a fist. The rope constricted. Rachel vanished in a burst of azure flames.
What had he done?
The witch laughed and flung another blue rope his way. Cody threw a powder at it, not even caring what it was, and turned to run.
He fled through the forest, heart hammering, screaming. She’s dead. She’s dead.
No, she couldn’t be dead. Cody didn’t know any magic that could kill so simply. But the witch far outranked him. He’d seen Rachel killed before his eyes. Rachel was dead. Dead.
Cody burst out of the forest before realizing he’d reached the edge. He raced across the field to his steed, leapt unto its back, and snapped his fingers to untie the rope. Kicking heels spurred the horse into a gallop.
He didn’t dare look back, didn’t dare to see if the witch was following. Cody leaned into the steed’s neck and cast quickening spells at its hooves. Panic welled inside him.
When the oak tree-doorway came into sight, he pulled the emerald key from around his neck. He steered the horse towards it and flung the key. The key hit the trunk. The door swung open, revealing the mineshaft. Cody rode through the tunnels and ditched the horse at the elevator.
Once out into the open pit quarry, he tossed newthog pollen at his feet and leapt the full sixty feet over the sheer walls. Moments later the Cadillac was peeling down the mountainside.
Cody hardly noticed where he drove. Panic fogged his mind. How fast was he going? A hundred twenty? Hundred thirty?
The wall of rolling steel finally snapped him back to reality. Cody swerved away from the approaching semi. The Cadillac spun into the air. He didn’t even have time to cast a protective spell before the ground came crashing through the roof.
A faint beeping echoed in the distance. Cody moaned, squinted, unsure of where he was. After a cough and sputter, he breathed in the sterile air that could only mean a hospital.
Cody jerked to a sit. Pain pounded his head. Medical tape pulled at his arm, struggling to hold the IV in place. He panted, taking in the white room. His brain slowly brought back memories while his eyes registered his surroundings.
Another cough—but not Cody’s.
A man sat at Cody’s bedside, head in his hands. Slowly, he raised his face. Cody hardly recognized him with the tears and unkempt hair.
Mr. Brewer. Rachel’s dad.
Guilt lumped in Cody’s throat. He’d let magic kill her, just as it had his parents. “It’s all my fault.” Cody choked on his words. “I let her die. I watched her burn. It’s all my fault. I’m sorry. I’m so—“
Mr. Brewer held up a hand. Cody trembled. He wanted to shrink away, hide from the father’s imminent wrath.
Mr. Brewer took a breath to compose himself. “The truck driver was drunk. He entered the freeway the wrong way. It’s not your fault. I …” He pursed his lips. “I forgive you.” He coughed, brought up a hand to hide quivering lips. “Ex-excuse me.” Mr. Brewer left the room, his shoulders shaking.
Mr. Brewer came every day and sat by Cody’s bedside. Cody didn’t speak. He didn’t trust himself. If he told Mr. Brewer what really happened, that Rachel died from a murderous witch instead of a flaming car, they’d move him to the mental ward a few floors up.
Only Mr. Brewer came. Cody had no family. And besides Rachel, he had no real friends.
After a few weeks, Cody finally understood how the witch killed Rachel. She took something precious from him by replacing it with something equally valuable. Rachel’s presence swapped for her father’s approval. Not only approval, but friendship.
When the nurses asked how he felt, Cody didn’t respond. They asked him if he’d like to walk around, but Cody didn’t move. They tried to feed him mush. He wouldn’t open his mouth. The TV ran, but he didn’t watch. Music played, but he didn’t hear it. Why bother? Rachel was dead. He killed her. He might as well rip the IV from his wrist and let himself wither away.
“The doctors say you’re healed. As soon as you start eating solid food you can go home,” Mr. Brewer said, the second time he’d spoken since Cody awoke.
Cody shrugged and rolled to his side.
“You… you survived that crash.” The awkwardness he felt leeched into his voice, but Mr. Brewer kept talking. “Miracles happen for a reason. You’re meant to live.”
Cody stared at the wall.
“If you won’t live for yourself, at least live for Rachel.”
Cody started. He rolled back to facing Mr. Brewer and raised an eyebrow in question.
“Think about what Rachel liked. There has to be some way you can honor her.”
I saw what you did for that boy.
A spark lit in Cody’s mind, the faintest idea of an idea. “Alright.” His voiced croaked from the months of non-use. He would honor Rachel.
Within days he left the hospital. They gave him the remains of his charred coat. Rachel’s ice sculpture, perfectly preserved, was still tucked in the front pocket. Cody curled his fingers around it. Its eternal cold burned his skin. He still had a piece of Rachel, even if only a memory.
Mr. Brewer had taken care of Baxtor, and dropped the pug off the day Cody got home. The herbs for making gold still grew in the backyard, though somewhat wild. He’d just use what he had growing. Cody didn’t dare return through the mine’s doorway. He didn’t think he could face Talhaigh again.
Cody capped his pen and tore out the check. “Will that be enough?”
“Enough? How could I ever thank you?”
“Just use it for something worthwhile.”
Cody tried handing him the check, but the man grasped his whole hand instead. “Thank you. Thank you, so much Mr. Thacker. You are a wonderful young man. Truly marvelous.”
Cody forced a smile. “My pleasure, Mr …” Cody glanced to his name tag. “Mr. Wight.” He tried to pull away, but Mr. Wight wasn’t finished.
“It’s wonderful how such horrid things can bring truly marvelous results. It’s been what now, a year? For these parties, I mean.”
Cody bit his tongue. “Yes.”
Mr. Wight didn’t seem to notice the bitter tone. “Will we have the pleasure of one of your shows tonight, Mr. Thacker? I’ve heard all about your wonderful magic tricks. It would be truly marvelous to see some myself.”
“Actually, I wasn’t planning on anything tonight.” At least not anymore. Cody managed to slip from Mr. Wight’s grasp. “Good-bye.”
Before Mr. Wight could bombard him with any more wonderful’s or marvelous’s, Cody slid into the crowd of suits and dresses. Light music floated through the chatter. Cody smiled and waved and evaded all the approaching faces. He didn’t feel like talking to anyone anymore. Maybe he could use his star pollen to make himself invisible.
He turned to hide in the crowd, but instead he met the caller’s eye. At least it wasn’t another charity representative. “Hello, Joel.”
Joel slapped Cody on the back, nearly knocking him over. “Love the party. Best so far, actually. It’s even convinced me to give up a couple dozen grand.” Joel swept out his hands in a wide arc. “Look at this place. It’s huge!”
Normally Cody would’ve been happy to hear it. “Yes, truly marvelous.”
Joel caught the sarcasm. “What’s the problem? Chandeliers don’t suit you?”
Cody sighed. He pulled out a chair and collapsed into it. He’d only known Joel a few months, and he already knew the fat cat was the biggest blabbermouth in the state. If he wanted to confide in anyone, it wasn’t Joel. “Planning the party’s just been stressful.” Especially on the anniversary of Rachel’s death.
Joel lumbered away. Cody pressed a hand to his lapel. The chill of Rachel’s ice statue seeped through the tuxedo. The reminder hurt, but letting go would be worse.
“Excuse me, Mr. Thacker? I’m Ms. Natilee Granger, with the Children’s Poverty Association.”
Another? Cody plastered on a smile. Forcing down a groan, and stood to greet her. But instead of accepting his handshake, her face contorted. She stumbled backwards. A squeal escaped her trembling lips.
Other screams filled the room. Cody turned just in time to see an eight-foot window explode. Shards of glass fell into the crowd. Instinctively, Cody flung the handkerchief from his pocket. King’s powder flew from its folds, turning the shards to water droplets.
“I see the filthy human has stopped playing with fire.”
His mind traveled back in time. The despair and panic at Rachel’s death. The mindless flight. He fled Talhaigh, leaving the door open in his haste.
The witch’s cackle filled the ballroom. It wasn’t bad enough that she killed Rachel. Now the witch could torment Earth—because an idiot had left a door unlocked.
A second window exploded. Newthog powder already in hand, Cody sent the shards flying into the ceiling.
This was all his fault. If he hadn’t been too scared to return to Talhaigh, if only he’d closed the door—
A chandelier dropped. The crowd screamed. Cody flung the remainder of the newthog powder at it. The chandelier flew across the vaulted ceiling and crashed into the indoor balcony.
The crowd wasn’t screaming anymore. They clapped and cheered. They didn’t realize they were in danger. And Cody wasn’t prepared for an attack. He had to draw the witch away—keep the crowd safe.
Cody sprinted for the stairs, pushing aside the cheering donors and donees. He took a mental inventory, counting his defenses. The herb powders were only enough for a few parlor tricks, not a battle. And he doubted unaided spells could best a witch.
“Run, filthy human! Run!” the invisible witch mocked. “You’ll see your dear girlie soon.”
Cody chanted an incantation under his breath. If he could force the witch to reveal herself, maybe he’d stand a chance.
The crowd “ooh”ed and “ahh”ed. Above, the broom-mounted witch flickered into view. A few clumps of hair hung around her shriveled face. Her ragged robe flapped as she circled the room.
Cody leapt to the stairs, taking them two at a time. Doors to back rooms waited at the top of the balcony.
The rug twisted underneath him. Cody grasped the railing to break his fall, but his shin still slammed into a stair. His leg throbbed.
The rug curled together, its fibers vibrating and darkening. Threads became scales. The tassel at the stairs’ foot became a hissing tongue. Instead of rug, a giant viper now lined the staircase.
The tail end whipped down, knocking Cody’s legs from under him. He slid down a few steps before stopping his fall. The snake’s head swung around to face Cody. Its mouth opened wider than Cody’s head and let out a threatening hiss.
The viper struck. Cody rolled out of the way, the stairs bruising his arms and back. The snake reared for a second strike. Cody pulled shade acid from his pocket. The viper dove again. It missed Cody, but knocked the vial from his hand. Shade acid splattered onto the railing. The wood hissed and steamed.
The viper’s head retreated and struck again within seconds. An incantation deflected the beast’s blow. Cody grabbed a railing post, which dangled by only a few fibers, and jerked it loose. He threw the post like a javelin, chanting a spell to ensure it flew strong and straight.
The post embedded itself just below the snake’s head. The viper hissed. Its body smoked and boiled as the shade acid ate both the flesh and the magic holding it together.
Cody sprinted up the stairs. He didn’t even bother looking as he heard the remains of the mangled carpet thump to the floor and the crowd burst into wild applause. Cody needed to get to a back room. He needed to draw the witch away.
He reached the balcony. The doors ahead slammed shut on their own accord. Cody muttered spells to reopen them, but the witch’s magic was too strong.
A fireball rushed past his head. Another exploded by his feet. Cody dove under a table. He fished a vial of stardust from his pocket and inhaled it. His body tingled before becoming completely invisible. He army-crawled backwards, moving as quietly as possible, and prayed the witch couldn’t hear him.
“The human likes hide-and-seek?” The table he’d just left burst into flames. The crowd ooh‘ed and ahh‘ed again. The witch flew around the room cackling. “Come out, child of filth!”
Cody pressed against the wall, barely daring to breath. The witch had the doors sealed. And there was no way he could fight through the crowd to the front entrance.
The witch stopped circling and hovered above the crowd on her broomstick. A blue rope appeared in her hand. “Come out!” she shrieked. “Or more than one filthy human will die today.”
Gasps came from below as a server rose from the crowd. His snack platter clattered to the ground. He flailed, panicked at finding himself in midair. The witch fingered the ghostly blue rope and eyed the frightened boy. She grinned. Her tongue ran along her rotting teeth.
Cody searched his pockets for herbs. He had more newthog powder, but any distraction from it would be short lived. He felt his jacket. He had to have something more potent than newthog.
An icy surface brushed his fingertips. Rachel’s statue.
“Oh little thief, should this filthy human die too?” The witch twirled her hand, flipping the server upside down. He yelped. A few spectators applauded, but most murmured nervously.
Cody’s hand closed around Rachel’s statue. It still burned in an eternal cold. The most powerful spell he’d ever conjured, right here in his palm.
The witch’s grasp tightened around the rope. Her grin turned to a grimace. “Come out!” she barked.
Cody could pry the spell from the statue and use it on the witch. It was powerful—more powerful than any other spell he’d made. The witch wouldn’t stand a chance.
But then he’d lose his last link to Rachel.
Flicking her wrist, the witch threw the server across the room. He slammed against a wall then climbed towards the vaulted ceiling.
Cody couldn’t use the statue’s spell. He couldn’t let it melt.
He’d rather die.
The witch pulled the server towards her until he floated in the middle of the room again. The server whimpered. No more applause came from the crowd, only worried whispers.
Cody pressed closer to the wall. He squeezed the ice sculpture so tightly that he would’ve crushed it without its enchantments. How could he lose it? It was all he had left.
The witch ground her teeth. Her eyes searched the balcony impatiently.
The server was crying, begging to be put down. He couldn’t have been more than a teen. For a second, he seemed to catch Cody’s eye, seeing through the starpollen’s magic. The fear was all too real in his eyes.
This wasn’t about Cody anymore. Others were at stake.
The witch shouted a foreign curse. Her fist clenched around the blue rope. “No more games.” She whipped the rope towards the server.
An incantation in his breath, Cody pulled the spell from the ice. His fist closed around the green magic orb and threw it at the witch.
She turned, but not quick enough to stop the spell. Time froze around her, locking the witch in a permanent scream. The rope vanished. The server fell. Cody tossed the newthog’s powder, breaking his fall.
The crowd held its breath a moment, then broke into a violent cheers. “Wonderful!” he heard someone shout. “Truly marvelous.”
Cody collapsed to his knees, drained from casting so many spells. He reached into his pocket and extracted the now unprotected ice sculpture. It was already melting.
The two-year-old snow stung his bare hands, but Cody still held it. He turned it slowly, memorizing the indents and curves made by Rachel’s gloves. It still looked more like a demented rhino than Baxtor.
Cody chuckled, then laughed out loud. Tears filled his eyes. The laughs turned to sobs. It was like she was dying all over again – this time melting instead of burning.
Water dripped from his now visible hands. The last ice crystals vanished to nothing. He stared at the worthless puddle that once meant so much. Everything felt so dull and distant. He didn’t even hear the crowd gasp. Only the light alerted him of the disturbance.
He stared down from the balcony. An azure fire burned at the foot of the stairs. The same fire conjured by the witch two years ago.
Cody leapt to his feet and tripped down the stairs. The fire vanished as he reached the bottom floor, a collapsed figure in its place.
He didn’t believe his eyes. He couldn’t. Cody dropped by her side and grasped her shoulder. This was real. Tangible flesh. Real. The word fell from his lips with his gasps. “Rachel?”
Rachel squinted up at him. “What’s going on?”
“I was dead?”
Cody pulled her to him, half-laughing half-sobbing.
Rachel was still in a daze. “I don’t get it. What’s going on?”
“The witch killed you—I thought she killed you—by making your dad like me. And then you came back. I don’t know how, but you’re here.”
“So it wasn’t a dream, the magic and all?” Rachel blinked a few times and seemed to come more into focus. “You know, I don’t think I’ve ever seen you laugh.”
Cody laughed again.
Rachel looked past his face to the ceiling. “Is that the witch?”
“Yeah. Don’t worry, she’s frozen. I used …” Cody stopped, looked down.
“You’re ice statue. It’s melted.”
“You kept that thing?”
“I’m sorry, I tried to protect it—”
“Why? It’s nothing special.”
Rachel met his eye. He didn’t say a word. They stayed there a moment, Cody holding Rachel in his lap. Then Rachel’s eyes widen. She sat. “The statue melted and then I came back …” She grinned and wrapped her arms around him. “I guess being sentimental pays off.”
Cody stared into space a moment before his brain caught up. “Oh. Oh!”
They laughed. They hugged. They kissed. And Rachel turned bright red when she finally noticed the cheering crowd.
Cody helped her to her feet and cupped her elbows. He leaned in close, forehead on hers and a genuine smile on his lips. “Now how do we explain this to your dad?”
Esther Davis writes short stories and poetry and is in the process of publishing her first novel. You can follow her on Twitter @EstherDDavis .